"States put brakes on capital punishment," is written by David Hill for the Washington Times. Here's the beginning of this excellent summary of the status of capital punishment in America, today.
For just the second time since 1984, Virginia and Maryland will end the year without executing a single death row inmate — reflecting a national trend of states using capital punishment less often over the past decade.
Maryland has long been reluctant to use its death penalty. Virginia, which ranks only behind Texas in the number of executions over the past 35 years, has put fewer people to death in recent years as many cases are tied up in appeals and as juries become less likely to recommend the punishment in capital murder cases.
Analysts say executions have plummeted nationwide and are banned in some states because of rising concerns over heavy court costs, biased sentencing and, perhaps most prominently, the fear that a state could — or already has — killed an innocent person.
“The advent of science in the world of criminology has showed that the justice system makes mistakes,” said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center. “That, I think, is a real shocker for the public and jurors, and they’re now less likely to give a death sentence.”
Yearly executions in the U.S. have decreased by more than 50 percent since 1999, when 98 people were put to death — the most since the Supreme Court placed an effective moratorium on capital punishment in 1972, and reaffirmed its legality in 1976.
This year, 42 convicts have been executed in a total of nine states, even though 33 states allow the death penalty and more than 3,000 inmates are on death row nationwide.
I expect that we will be seeing more year-end summaries from journalists and organizations in the coming days.